“Should evaluators avoid conflict?”  Anthea posed this incisive question while presenting her case study, only to be retorted by Scott that there is a “difference in managing conflict as opposed to avoiding conflict”.  And off it went, an amazing discussion by the panel and the audience members on the relationship between evaluation, conflict management – and yes, understanding failures.

The panel has a conservative estimate of over 200 years of evaluation experience – and that’s just counting John and Jenny! With this wealth of experience, it was a fascinating discussion between the audience and the panel related to understanding failures as a way of communicating with the clients, and using this in managing conflict. For being an evaluator, conflict is a given in our line of work.  As one person from the nosebleeds of the Sutherland Theatre noted, “If you don’t like conflict, don’t become an evaluator”.

Scott provided an interesting framework of understanding the four derivatives of failure.  First, the theory of change and strategy doesn’t work properly.  Secondly, the implementation of the strategy is a failure. Third, that the external environment has changed during the implementation leading to the failure (perfect for you realist evaluators out there). And fourth, that the evaluation is a failure – specifically that the methodology may have been faulty, and that the intended change has not been picked up. 

The take-away for me was simple, supported by John’s closing remarks. Evaluators have a role in facilitating the discussion through the conflicts, and we evaluators need to better understand the failures (of ours or the programs) to help manage those conflicts. 

Byron Pakula